Posts Tagged ‘career advancement’

Obstacles Welcome

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
    ralph-de-la-vega

More often than not, the difference between leaders and less successful people resides in their interpretation of one word: “obstacle.” Whether you interpret the word to mean a barrier to achieving whatever it is you wish to achieve or as an opportunity to create an alternative solution to attain your goal, you act accordingly. In the first case, you tend to give up your goals and in the second case you find a way to turn that obstacle into fuel for your new approach, strategy, point of view, and so on.

Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO of AT&T Mobility, is a firm believer in turning obstacles into opportunities. He started early — when he was 10 years old and his parents decided at the airport, about to board a plane in Cuba for the US, that Ralph would be the only one in the family to travel while everyone else would stay behind to resolve some documentation issue. Thinking his parents would join him in a few days, Ralph left for his new adventure. The only problem was that he didn’t see his family again for the next four years. Since then, Ralph has had an incredibly successful career in this country and is now one of the highest ranking Hispanics in Corporate America.

I recently interviewed Ralph about his new book, Obstacles Welcome.

Mariela– What makes your personal story unique and, at the same time, an example that others can follow?

Ralph– My story is unique because although I got here as a 10-year-old without my parents, without money and without knowing the language, I’ve been able to reach the top of corporate America. Also, what makes my story relevant to others are the lessons I learned along the way, which I share in my book, Obstacles Welcome, as a guide for them to overcome their own obstacles and achieve their goals.

Mariela–How did you turn the concept of obstacle into “opportunity”?

Ralph– Once I succeeded in overcoming the obstacles I encountered during my first years as an immigrant I realized that these difficulties led to bigger and better opportunities. That was a huge lesson for me and one that I’ve applied ever since in business and in life.

Mariela– What suggestions do you have for people who are frustrated by the bad economy and the long time it is taking them to find a job? How can they turn this big obstacle into an opportunity?

Ralph– We are living in one of those turbulent times I describe in my book where the old status quo is no more but also where opportunity is being created. My suggestion any time you are faced with adversity is to turn it into opportunity. Right now, even as some fields are being shrunk, others are being created: green jobs, smart grids, digital healthcare records, hybrid cars, and many others. I tell people to look for those opportunities and to develop new skills so that they can compete successfully. This is a great time to put into practice the four pillars that are described in detail in my book.

1. Develop a plan for success. Hope is not a strategy.
2. Take calculated risks
3. Recognize opportunities
4. Overcome obstacles

In times like this it’s easy to let a word like “obstacle” run our lives, to use it as a justification or an excuse for not moving forward. If you think of it as just a word, however, you can create your own interpretation. And who knows, you may chose to define is a your next great opportunity!

Diversity best practice: networking and recruiting

Friday, December 18th, 2009
    Soledad O'Brien and Mariela Dabbah at NAHJ gala '08

    Soledad O'Brien and Mariela Dabbah at NAHJ gala '08

How many networking events have you attended lately? If you are anything like me, the answer is akin to: “I don’t remember anymore!” In my case, networking is not just something I do to grow my career but one of the themes I weave into most of my presentations, regardless of the particular topic.

In the last two years, conferences and industry shows where I often present have become the favorite place for job hunters to get a chance at connecting with prospective employers. The trouble has been that even at “job fairs,” participating companies have not been actively recruiting; and the ratio between candidates and job openings has been stacked against the candidates.

Enter CNN’s networking event series conceptualized by their Diversity Council with the goal of developing strong relationships that lead to increased hiring from a diverse pool of candidates. Because they reached out to many of the diverse journalistic associations, I had the good fortune of receiving an invitation from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), to which I belong.

I made my way up to the rooftop of the Empire Hotel in NY, a beautiful room overlooking the Lincoln Center area, and was welcomed by a smiling woman who checked off my name on a list and stamped my hand. Right away, I felt part of a select group of guests that had been hand picked to attend. This was a great first sign which, combined with the top quality hors d’ouvres, the open bar and the attentive waitresses, all contributed to making it a first class experience.

As I walked around meeting people, the multicultural feel of the room was amazing and although this is not unusual in New York, it is less frequent in newsrooms and networks across the country.

What caught my attention was that, unlike many events where the candidates have nametags and the recruiters hide their positions so you can’t bother them, the CNN hosts were clearly identified. But that wasn’t all. The recruiters made sure guests were meeting the right people, and they officiated many an introduction with key contacts.

The event was so impeccably run that at times it felt surreal. From a relationship-building point of view, a big part of the success of the event was the level of CNN’s staff that was present and actively engaged. From CNN USA’s president Jon Klein to Soledad O’Brien to senior HR executives who flew from Atlanta for the occasion, everything spelled: “We are interested in you and we are committed to diversity.” This is not always the message that well intentioned companies send when they host diversity activities. Most commonly the Executive Sponsor of the diverse group says a few words at the beginning of the event and then leaves.

“We are what we air. We air what we are,” says Johnita P. Due, CNN’s Assistant General Counsel and Diversity Council Chair, sharing the council’s mission statement. “We have a recruiting booth at many diversity journalistic conferences but this is a different touch. It allows senior management to meet people. And the truth is that unless you have the opportunity to meet someone in person, it’s hard to make an impression through paper.”

In the words he shared with the audience, Klein said that the network is interested in expanding its coverage of stories about African Americans, Latinos and other diverse populations above and beyond the once a year documentaries. Increasing diverse hires is certainly a wonderful step towards that goal. Creating real opportunities that show respect for prospective employees is most definitely a positive sign in an economic environment in which this diverse community of journalists, reporters and producers has suffered more than their fair share of pain.

So, if you are a member of a Diversity Council or an Employee Resource Group and you are working with your company’s recruitment team, think of the impact that this type of best practice can have on your business. Your input can help change the way things are done.

Latino employees make a difference

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
    AMEX_Hispanic_Card_8_27

Years ago, when Employee Resource Groups (ERGs, also known as Affinity Groups and Employee Networks) made their appearance in corporate America, the goal was to provide a space for diverse groups of employees to be heard and to offer support and networking opportunities which would result in an increased level of employee engagement.

As with most things, ERGs have evolved through the years and at a time when businesses need to leverage any advantage they have to earn market share, using the power of employees to reach an increasingly diverse population is key. In the words of Kerrie Peraino, Chief Diversity Officer at American Express: “We don’t want to loose the educational, informational and celebratory mandates of ERGs but we also want them to help with recruiting, orienting, training and retaining of talent and to share and develop business ideas that bring direct benefits to the bottom line.”

As a matter of fact, the AHORA network at American Express (their Latino ERG) helped develop the idea and the design for Amex’s new ¡Felicidades! gift card that went on sale recently and which will be available until January to account for the Hispanic community’s habit of buying gifts for Three Kings Day. ERG members voted online for one of the three designs that the company’s ad agency came up with after hearing AHORA’s input.

Ms.Peraino is not alone in her thinking. Recently, I moderated a panel called “Optimizing ERGs business effectiveness” at a Diversity Best Practices’s conference in Washington, DC. While discussing the different models ERGs are using to impact a company’s bottom line, one of the presenters on the panel, Claudia Mastrapasqua, Managing Director Client Executive Practice at Marsh, shared the innovative approach of her company’s Women’s network (WEBB.)

For the last few years WEBB has been hosting an event where Marsh clients and Marsh employees get together for some strong networking around a keynote speaker at a great venue. These events have helped the company develop new relationships with prospective clients and strengthen existing relationships. Most recently, I was the speaker at their event at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, where about 140 women got together at around 6 PM on a Thursday night.

Everyone networked until 6:30 when the 1/2 hour program started. First, Joseph McSweeney, president of Marsh’s US/Canada Division, said a few words and then I made a twenty minute presentation. That was it. The group went back to their networking, their shopping and having their hands massaged for free. No doubt that the wonderful hors d’oeuvres, the Holiday Martinis, the 15% discount coupon and the personal shoppers assigned to help the women shop privately (the store closed its doors to the public at 7 PM) helped make the evening a wild success.

But what I want to point out to you is this: through their involvement with their ERGs the members of AHORA and WEBB have found great opportunities to connect with senior management and gain visibility within their companies, which is often hard to do. By taking an active role in developing programs and products that affect your company’s bottom line you become part of a selective group of individuals who get recognized for their contributions. AHORA and WEBB have received lots of internal praise as well as external press and their members are preparing for wonderful year-end reviews.

So the question is: In this economic climate, what are you doing to stand out in your company?

A simple way to end conflicts

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
    habitacion-de-adolescente-2

I often hear friends, colleagues or clients complain that others don’t understand them. “He’s not listening to me,” or “She doesn’t understand what I want.” Sounds familiar? This kinds of misunderstandings happen in our private and professional lives all the time and more often than not, what’s behind them is a difference in unconscious standards. Let me explain what I mean through a story.

Marta is angry at her assistant Lisa because she frequently interrupts her while she’s trying to focus on her work. When she tells her: “Lisa, I can’t work if you are constantly interrupting me,” Lisa, surprised by her boss’ reaction responds: “That’s not true. I don’t interrupt constantly! I come in here once in a while to get answers so I can do my job well.”

What is true for Marta is not true for Lisa, and that is usually the case when the focus of our conversation is on who is right and who is wrong. What really matters is: is this type of communication producing a positive result for either one of these two women? If the answer is “no” then it behooves them to find a different approach regardless of who is right.

This situation can be easily resolved if Marta and Lisa sat down and discussed what constitutes “frequently,” “constantly,” and “once in a while” for each one of them. Say that Marta considers being interrupted three times a day as “frequent” and anything over three times a day “constant,” and Lisa thought that only five interruptions a day would be considered “frequent” and over that “constant.” Do you see how their differing standards (of which most of the times we are not aware) get in the way of producing positive results?

Once they sit down and clarify what each one of them means by these words, they can agree on new actions that help both of them achieve their goal: Lisa gets her answers and Marta feels that she’s maintaining her relationship with a valued employee. They can now agree on a new course of action: Lisa will accumulate questions and come into her boss’ office twice a day to get her answers and Marta will stop work at specific times during the day to focus her attention on her assistant.

Think about how many of these situations you experience in your life daily and ask yourself if there are certain “behind the scenes” standards about which you and the other person need to talk. What is “late” for you and what is “late” for your boss; what is “a clean room” for you and what is “a clean room” for your teenage child, what is “too much” work, talk, food, travel, for you and for someone else? The moment we start exploring these standards for ourselves and the people we interact with, a new realm of possibilities open up. I encourage you to try!

Everything impacts your image

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009
    restaurant-en-palermo-soho-2-med1

Sometimes it’s hard to control every detail of your professional life: how you dress and communicate, your work ethic, your friends, the way you execute a project… Because the truth is that everything you do and even what you don’t do has an impact on your image.

Take for example a conference I attended this week. (I’m not going to say its name, hoping the organizers learn from the feedback and, either substantially improve the event next year or forget about the conference altogether.)

I signed up (and paid) mainly because of the keynote speaker. Yet, when I arrived (first at the wrong destination because the publicity materials were not clear) I was informed that the speaker had been canceled. “He wasn’t well known by the Latinos who were attending and he charged a lot of money so we decided to use the money to attract more people to come to the conference,” I was told by the organizer. I was furious and disappointed. It had been a very difficult morning for me and I had made the effort to attend because I wanted to hear the now-canceled-keynote speaker.

The conference was supposed to start at 9:00 but it didn’t get started until 10:00 and then they kept changing the workshops that were being offered and the rooms where they would take place. Even the host didn’t seem to have a script for the conference to flow smoothly.

In addition, the luncheon speaker was a Latino comedian. He was funny, sure, and I love a good belly laugh, but the truth is that this was an all day professional conference for which all of the attendees had sacrificed time at work and many had traveled from across the country. Instead of perpetuating the stereotype that Latinos are only about having fun, providing some solid content would’ve been a much better idea.

So, even though the topic of the conference was very relevant, the poor execution impacted the image of the organizers. It not only said something about their lack of professionalism but it also said something about how they viewed the audience. It told participants that, at some level, the organizers believed that because the audience was mainly Latino, they would be patient with the fact that the program was running an hour late, or with the various changes, or with the level of informality or with a canceled keynote speaker.

Making these kinds of assumptions can really hurt your image and your relationship with others. So here’s my advice: whatever you do, do it professionally or don’t do it. And keep in mind that informality is a trait many Latinos share but that it will get in the way of your career development in the American market. In addition, treating people with respect should always be a top priority.

Uncover your Latinoness

Thursday, September 24th, 2009
    dsc04948

The other day, after I gave a presentation about using your Latino traits to your advantage, a young female attendee asked me: “How can I advance in my career leveraging my Latino traits while avoiding the stereotypes?” It was a great question around a topic faced by many people who are second or third generation Latino and by those who have spent many years in this country and have learned to navigate the system well.

The tendency is to become overly assimilated and to forget where your roots are to the point where you may miss great opportunities to leverage that background to your benefit. This young lady avoided at all cost taking on assignments in Latin America or serving the Hispanic market as she believed, as many people do, that taking these kinds of assignments might pigeonhole her. And although this may be a good strategy at the beginning of your career, once you’ve proven your worth, you may want to reconsider it.

There are many Latino values that you should tap into. Having been raised by a Latino family has exposed you to certain experiences, world view and set of values that can be very useful in today’s marketplace. Finding out what they are and bringing them to the surface is the first step to leveraging their power.

So for instance, coming from an area of the world that experiences change constantly, your parents and grandparents grew up learning how to adapt. For them, the only way to survive involved creating alternatives to the way in which they conducted business or to how they managed their daily lives.

They instilled these skills in you, even if you didn’t realize it and in great part, you owe to your upbringing the ability to solve problems, the fact that you think fast on your feet, can change direction in a split second and can do several jobs with equal ease.

Your goal should be to communicate those unique skills as part of your value proposition to your bosses or prospective employers. That not only are you great at what you do, but on top of that, you have all of these Latino traits that will benefit the company. By aligning your value proposition to the company’s bottom line you have a much better chance to land a plum assignment or that coveted job.

What do you fear?

Sunday, August 30th, 2009
    como-estacionar-un-smart-car1

Whether you were born in Latin America or in the US to Hispanic parents/grandparents, you probably share many traits with other Latinos. Yes, we all have our own nuances and we are not all the same by any stretch of the imagination, but coming from the same region provides a common denominator.

If you take in consideration that, in general, the system doesn’t work as well in Latin America as it does in developed nations like the US, you already have the makings of two traits: a strong need to develop relationships (because unless you know somebody, nothing will get done and you will get nowhere!) and a great flexibility. We are the masters of trouble shooting, we are resourceful beyond belief, we are incredibly creative and we are awesome at coming up with solutions to the most complex problems. All of which makes us very adept to change, something that comes in handy in job market situations like the one we are experiencing now.

In the context of the global economic collapse, Latin America is not doing that badly. Why? Because it has seen many crises that were much worse than this one. Because they’ve been in the forefront of making do with less, in figuring out how to get out of an impossible predicament. Talk about “reduce, re-use, recycle,” people in that region grew up inheriting the clothes of their siblings, cousins and friends; they wash their paper plates and plastic ware and they’ve had smaller cars that run on alternative fuels for a very, very long time.

And even though this trait is extremely powerful in our current situation, you must remember that it is just one of the many advantageous traits that you bring to the table.

So my question is this: Why if we have so many unique characteristics are we not assuming more leadership positions in this country? What are we afraid of?

Keeping your job is not enough!

Sunday, April 12th, 2009


You might think that in this economy, hoping to keep your job is all you have to worry about. Well, think again. Because you should really be focused on how to bring more value to your life and to your employer. Otherwise, soon, the only way to make sure you will keep your job is by tying yourself to your desk!

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you’re a valuable asset to your company:

  • Share ideas to improve the bottom line with key decision makers
  • Offer to help people in other departments
  • Think of new tasks you can do to improve your performance or the revenue you generate for the company
  • Continue your education (many companies are still reimbursing their employees for this, so take advantage)
  • Keep your bosses and supervisors abreast of your progress, value and contributions with frequent communications. Don’t wait until your semi annual or annual review to do this.

    Remember that as the market gets increasingly competitive it is to your best interest to actively manage your career. Remaining in a status-quo, stagnant situation will only delay an inevitable layoff.

  • Becoming the best

    Sunday, December 28th, 2008

    Unlike a lot of people I don’t usually make a list of New Year’s resolutions because I tend to act on resolutions right away, all year long, instead of waiting for the beginning of a new year. The same way I can start a diet on a Wednesday instead of waiting for Monday…

    But a lot of people like to use this opportunity to reflect and set new goals and I think that’s a very positive way to start the year. This year in particular, there is one thing I think we should all add to the top of our lists: to become the best at what we do. Whether you improve your computer skills, or a certain process, whether you work on your communication abilities or specific skills you need for your particular job, you have to make it a priority.

    In a tight job market, those who offer the best value are the ones who will find and keep jobs. And I’m talking all kinds of jobs. Check these examples of people who will soon lose their jobs if they don’t get their act together:

  • The emergency phone service operator who took my call after I was on hold for 10 minutes. When I said: “That was a long wait for an emergency service”, she remained quiet. She didn’t apologize and she told me (after sighing) that my condo already knew we didn’t have hot water because someone had called earlier. I had to insist for her to take down my unit number and report my problem.
  • The graphic designer that turns in her work two weeks past a deadline.
  • The editor who allows articles to be published in his/her newspaper without checking the facts.
  • The executive recruiter who is constantly back stabbing her colleagues thinking people don’t notice and don’t talk amongst themselves.
      I’m sure you have your own examples. Hopefully they refer to others and not to yourself! Just in case, let’s all make this the number one priority for this year: stretch the limits of how good we think we can be and challenge ourselves to the next level.

  • Our identity

    Saturday, December 6th, 2008

    I was just up in Ann Arbor, Michigan presenting to a group of MBA students who are members of the Hispanic Latino Students Business Association at the Stephen. M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

    The group was wonderful and during lunch we talked a little bit about where each of us was from. As is the case more often than not, a few students had a mixed background. The winner, however, was a young man who looked Korean. He was born in Korea and moved to Chile when he was two years old. He lived between Chile and Paraguay until he was seven or eight, time at which his family moved to Brazil.

    A little while back, he moved to the US to study so, by now, he speaks Korean, Spanish, Portuguese and English and judging from the languages I heard him speak, he does so pretty well!

    “What do you say when people ask you ‘where are you from’?” I inquired curiously.

      “Brazil” He responded with no hesitation. And then went on to explain that when he lived in Brazil, his Korean friends had the same Brazilian influences that he had. But once he moved to the US he realized he had less in common with the Korean community here, as they are from Korea. “That’s when I realized I was really Brazilian,” he said.

    And of course, many Brazilians identify with the Latino culture, so here he was, hanging out with the HLSBA group.

    So, when people ask you ‘where are you from’, what do you say?